The best hunters I know combine the information from aerial imagery, topographic maps, and other customized mapping resources to pinpoint areas that scream of high deer traffic. Google Earth has been my go-to tool while working as a private land consultant around the country.
Google Earth allows you to calculate acreages which is a huge time and money saver when it comes down to management projects such as: planting food plots, laying out prescribed fire plans, identifying bedding areas, identifying access routes and so much more. Below are a few essential steps that are a “must do” while scouting property from your desk.
First, find a program you like. Bing and Google both offer quality aerial views for quick reference, but I recommend using Google Earth if you plan on mapping anything out.
Start With a Wide Angle
Once you have located a property of interest it is a smart idea to zoom out to where you can still recognize the desired property, but also see a good portion of the surrounding landscape. Zooming out allows you to see and hopefully understand the big picture. Recognizing the spatial relationship of significant habitat features is the most important aspect to understanding the big picture. Food, cover, and water are the three critical habitat features when it comes to understanding deer. The layout of these three components helps determine the likely travel patterns and hangouts.
Zooming out a bit allows you to visualize the landscape from more of a deer’s perspective (average home range of a deer is roughly 500 acres). From here you can find the perfect ambush locations.
While zoomed out it is easy to identify agricultural fields, forested areas, grasslands and bodies of water. So, what do you have that the neighbors don’t? Or, what element do you need to enhance?
This is where the fun starts and the puzzle begins to take shape. I try to always think like a deer and ask myself, “How would I travel this land on a day-to-day basis”? I look for things like continuous bands of cover, potential feeding and bedding areas, and how to effectively hunt the property with different winds. It’s important to remember that patterns change throughout the season. . . what may have been a great property during the summer and early fall may go ice cold during the winter months (pun intended) or vice versa.
Mapping Your Way to Success
After designing and mapping thousands of acres of hunting lands across the U.S., adding a splash of color has been the key to understanding properties quickly and accurately.
Using Google Earth’s mapping features like adding polygons, trails and waypoints is a simple way to better understand a property. A complete map is shown below.
Google Earth allows you to draw trails, add polygons, measure distances and areas plus a whole lot more. A little bit of time spent outlining fields, food plots, bedding areas, trails, water, etc. and you will end up with a clearer picture of how and why deer are using a property the way they are. Mapping out areas with the polygon tool also allows you to determine the acreage of whatever is outlined. Earthpoint.us is a separate website that works cohesively with Google Earth data. For being free, it is a great and simple tool that extracts Google Earth data points and calculates areas just by copying the polygon information from Google Earth and pasting it into Earthpoint.us.
A few hours on Google Earth can yield a detailed map which aids in management planning and hunting strategy.
Other Helpful Mapping Resources
While most of my mapping takes place on Google Earth, there are few key features you will have to look elsewhere for. PROPERTY BOUNDARIES must be understood. Where can you find this information online? Well, just about every county in the United States now has an interactive GIS map which displays a layer containing landowner information and parcel boundaries. Essentially it is an online plat book with the added advantage of having the parcel boundaries overlaid on an aerial image… AWESOME! This is where your search for new properties to hunt should begin!
You Can’t Do Everything From Your Computer
While computer technology is incredibly handy, you still can’t forget to lace up your boots and scout the old fashioned way. There are some critical variables that can only be gathered on-site, such as, if there is a good acorn crop, what’s planted in a particular field, and if there’s a quality tree to hang a stand in.
Using a multiple array of maps can help you spend more time scouting quality areas and less time finding that perfect tree stand location.
Identifying deer sign like trails, rubs, scrapes and running trail cameras are all a huge part of successfully bagging a buck year in and year out. However, by narrowing your scouting efforts from hundreds of acres down to a few select ones, you will be able to cover a significant amount of quality area. When it comes down to it, most people only have the weekends to spend scouting, so why wouldn’t you want to scout the areas that show the best potential?